As daily deaths and infections from Covid-19 declined dramatically, the education ministry began to prepare to resume physical classes in schools, with final green light from health authorities to be issued any day . Nonetheless, the teachers’ unions threatened to continue their strike, which would shatter all hopes of a rapid school recovery.

Their action will further deprive the education of children which has already been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Education Minister Dinesh Gunawardena, in an interview with the Sunday Observer last week, explained the plans underway to get the education system back on track and overcome the challenges ahead.

Excerpts

Q: The Education Ministry last week instructed provincial authorities to clean and disinfect schools that have been closed for months due to the Covid-19 pandemic, with the goal of reopening them in the coming weeks. Have you finalized the reopening dates?

A: We would be able to start over 3,000 schools with less than 200 students in October. These are in rural areas. At the same time, we are discussing the reopening of national schools.

To set a date, you need permission from the health authorities. Parents and staff will be involved in the disinfection and cleaning of schools. For some responsibilities, before the reopening and after, we will need their help.

Provincial governors have expressed an interest in speeding up the process. Out of 10,000 odd-numbered schools, some 9,000 come under provincial authority.

Governors and provincial authorities will play a major role in this process, ensuring that schools are safe to accommodate students and that facilities are in place to meet health regulations.

Q: What are the expectations of the Ministry of Education regarding the presence of teachers and principals once schools reopen, given that there is a union strike going on?

A: An overwhelming number of teachers are waiting to show up for work. Various unions have responded to our call to resume online education and report to work once schools reopened.

We finished vaccinating teachers last month. We have been reported that the vaccination of non-university staff, such as security guards and canteen support staff, is nearing completion, as part of the state vaccination campaign.

Q: Some unions are adamant that they did not get a favorable solution to their longstanding wage problem. Your comments?

A: I do not agree with this position. We have made a clear decision to respond to their demands even in the midst of Covid-19, a global crisis that has crippled our economy. We are committed to ensuring that their demands will be met from next year’s budget, that is to say to positively rectify the salary anomalies.

I do not think it is fair for the unions to continue their strike. In fact, we have continued to pay teachers’ salaries despite their withdrawal from online teaching for almost three months, which is a blow to students who have already been affected by school closures for more than three months. a year. In addition, the government provided them with an additional allowance of 5,000 rupees from September of this year.

The union’s demand to declare the teachers’ service closed and the request to appoint a committee to look at several other long-standing issues have been implemented.

The committee’s recommendations are due in six months. We have taken their requests seriously and are taking action to resolve them. Therefore, the ongoing strike is absolutely unfair.

Q: But the unions claim that the 5,000 rupee allowance was not paid with their September salary?

A: The government has allocated funds for this purpose. Instructions have been given to release this special allowance. Teachers should pick it up from the zone office or schools.

Q: Parents have been patiently following the progress of the teachers’ strike. If unions have been offered favorable solutions, parents ask why can’t the government resort to effective measures to force teachers to resume online lessons for the sake of children?

A: As I mentioned earlier, we are preparing to take over the schools. We had to wait for the end of the vaccination. We were able to get the GCE Ordinary Level 2020 results despite attempts by unions to delay it further with threats. From now on, this batch of 600,000 students can proceed to the higher studies of the GCE.

Amid the setbacks of Covid-19, we are committed to seeing children return to school as soon as possible. We are working on it now.

However, the reopening will have to be done in a phased manner to ensure that we do not put children at risk.

Q: Children lost over a year of schooling due to Covid-19, in Western Province schools were closed for about 30 months. What is being considered to make up for lost time in school – vis-à-vis education and other vital activities that play a crucial role in a child’s growth, especially for children? young children?

A: This will be a concern once schools resume. Schools might have to go on for longer hours. But our main concern was to protect lives and bring the country back to normal. It was deemed the most important thing by the government – protecting our children. Once schools reopen, schools will be guided to make their own plans to make up for what children have lost.

Education authorities are discussing a special arrangement – to cover study programs for ordinary and advanced level students of GCE. The Advanced and 5th year scholarship exams will be postponed, but not for a long period.

All academic institutions across the country are currently discussing how the health ministry will give the green light for schools to reopen, which is slated for this month.

Q: The GCE Ordinary Level 2020 practice tests have been postponed indefinitely. Do you plan to finish them soon?

A: We plan to hold them once the schools reopen. The practical tests may not be postponed beyond December.

Q: The teachers’ union in Ceylon has said it will continue to strike even after schools reopen. In the face of these threats, what will the Ministry of Education’s plan be to ensure that schools continue without interruption?

A: Children are the future of our country. The country is going through a very difficult time due to a global pandemic that has affected even the developed countries.

We have been successful in keeping the Covid-19 numbers under control, with meticulous policies adopted by the government.

We have overtaken even the developed countries in our vaccination campaign and have come this far to reopen the country.

A lot of money has been spent on acquiring vaccines. A lot of work has been done by all stakeholders to ensure that they are secured on time and administered without delay.

The others must now pull themselves together and move the country forward. I hope that teachers’ unions will understand this situation.

We understand that the vast majority of teachers want to go back to school and help students with their studies.

There must be no action to sabotage this effort, especially when the government has been sensitive to their woes and has accepted that they have real grievances that need to be rectified. Measures have been taken. We gave them our word. All we need is time to keep our promises.


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